Nigeria's bishops challenged government authorities Tuesday to resolve the country’s violent disputes, especially after recent attacks by Fulani herdsmen have resulted in over 100 deaths just this year.
A Jan. 16 statement from the Nigerian bishops' conference focused on clashes between herdsmen and farmers; a spate of kidnappings; and the large number of internally displaced persons and refugees.
“The recent mass slaughter of unarmed citizens by these armed herdsmen in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba States has caused national shock, grief and outcry” read the statement.
rn“We believe that, if there is some degree of political will, our public authorities can take adequate steps to put an end to these human tragedies.”
Signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos and Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, the president and secteary of the Nigerian bishops' conference, respectively, the statement also urged officials to attend to increased kidnappings causing fear among citizens and humanitarian issues occurring in refugee camps.
On Jan. 11, thousands of Nigerians gathered in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, to mourn the death of 73 people. The deaths were a result of suspected Fulani herdsman who have raided nearby farming communities with automatic rifles since the beginning of the year.
Additionally, at least 55 people were killed by the nomadic herdsman in the neighboring state of Taraba. However, the violence has not ended and the death toll is likely to rise.
Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years since climate issues have pushed herders further south. The bishops understood the herdsmen's concern “to save their livestock and economy” but condemned the “massacres of innocent people” that have resulted.
“Our perilous situation calls for more security consciousness,” the statement read, and the bishops urged authorities to take measures to disarm and unmask the criminals responsible for the attacks.
They maintained that “a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing 'grazing colonies' in the country. Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice.”
“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect,” the bishops wrote.
Without government intervention, the bishops are worried the conflict would breed situations of long term violence, and that farmers would have to result to self-defense, creating a state of anarchy.
“This will, no doubt, lead to the complete breakdown of law and order in the country,” wrote the bishops. “It is wiser and easier to prevent a war than to stop it after it has broken out,” they later added.
The bishops, though, applauded the government’s successful efforts to remove one terrorist group, but were also saddened by the incidents of kidnapping and the lack of police efforts to prevent such widespread crimes.
“While thanking God and the federal government for the successes so far recorded in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in the north east, we are appalled by the repeated occurrence of other ugly incidents,” read the message.
Recent kidnappings from have seeded fear among Nigeria’s citizens, the bishops said, noting that no individual “no matter how old, sacred or highly placed” has been safe from the humiliating attacks.
An Italian priest, who had been missionary in Nigeria for three years, was kidnapped in October 2017. He was taken while driving in Benin City, the capital of Edo, a southern state of the country. Likewise, six religious women were taken last November from their convent near Benin City.
All the mentioned parties have been released, but the bishops expressed frustrations that “communities should be better policed” considering the monthly allowance set aside by the Federal Republican of Nigeria for security forces.
Two American and two Canadian citizens were kidnapped in Kaduna state Jan. 17. The kidnappers shot and killed two police escorts in the incident, according to the BBC.
The bishops also encouraged more policing of refugee camps, which have reportedly become hubs of sexual harassment.
Due to political unrest, Cameroonians have fled their country and taken residence in refugee camps within the states of Taraba and Banue. Many of these places are in need of basic necessities, sanitation, and medical supplies, the bishops wrote.
The government should provide additional support to the National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, they said, but also urged people to aid integration of these struggling communities.
In conclusion, the bishops called on all of Nigeria to participate in actions of peace, forgiveness, and mutual dialogue.
“We, therefore, urge all aggrieved parties to seek reconciliation through dialogue and mutual forgiveness. Above all, we passionately appeal to them to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”